The 30 Best Action Figures of the ’80s
Growing up a boy, as I did -well, the boy part anyway, not so much the growing up part- I played with my fair share of action figures. What boy didn’t, right? How cool was it to shred open the package of a brand new Battle Beast or Centurion and wage instant war with your other toys? We never understood the possibility of collectability and rarity when we were kids, they were just cool toys, and that’s what they should have been. So, having had most of my memorable childhood in the ’80s, here are thirty of the best action figure lines ever created.
30) Madelman 2050
Wow! Who didn’t have Madelman 2050 toys? Well, me, for one… but just for the sake of argument, let’s just say I did and play out this completely fabricated scenario: “Gee, mom! Thanks for te new Madelman 2050 guy! Now I can -presumably- fight off the evil forces of my other Madelman 2050 guy! I’m ecstatic!”
Ah, Crystar and Moltar, the brethren protectors of Crystalin… how could we possibly forget! I had a few guys and I really recall one of them, possibly with a beard, called Feldspar? The one other thing I recall about these guys is the fact that they smelled really funny… like some kind of deadly polymer used for the molding. No wonder I’ve grown a second head. Kick-ass toys, though.
Pink mother-f#[email protected] MUSCLE guys! Oh, sweet, sweet memories… These nifty little fellas came in garbage cans at first, then, as the package shows, in big-ass boxes. I had a ton of them lying around all over the place and each doing a fine job of clogging up my mom’s vacuum. Remember when they started to come out in a rainbow of colors? I really wanted to eat one.
27) Mego Superheroes
Boy nothing screams, “As frickin close to a Barbie Doll as you can get” like those giant-sized Mego Dolls that you could, and potentially did, take the clothes off of. I loved the anatomically-correct ‘undercarriage’ each figure sported, complete with ‘bulge’ and flesh-toned underthings. Spectacular, you dorks!
26) Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
Based on the kick-ass cartoon that generally ran on Saturday mornings during the mid-eighties, these toys featured the metallic vehicles of the heroes, and the plant-like bio-machines of the evil dudes. I had a few of these fun toys, and as I recall, they were a bit pricey, but since you could pretty much build your own ‘toy’ for the most part, I guess that was OK. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m living a filthy lie.
25) Go Bots
The poor-man’s Transformers though they may have been, they certainly had the fact that they were far easier to ‘change’ going for them. Cy-Kill, Leader One, Cop-Tor, Spay-C (I am totally NOT making any of those names up) and a slew of others were so mechanically inept all you basically had to do was turn them over and shove the limbs into their bodies. FUN!
Yet another toy based on a blah blah… the story gets old, but it’s the truth with ninety percent of these figures: Saturday Morning Toy Ads. One never really watched a cartoon; one generally watched an advert and begged their parents for the play-item line based on said show. But, as I’m frequently known to do, I digress. With names like Buttons McBoom-Boom and Curly-Fries Jackson (OK, I made that one up) these guys came with all kinds of goodies and really did feature nice playability.
23) Shogun Warriors
These guys were ENORMOUS! Roughly the size of a standard 3-year old, the Shogun Warriors weren’t exactly the epitome of pose-ability, but for what they lacked in that department they more than made up for in their launching wrists, oodles of firing rockets, and removable heads. Japanese to their very core, the Shogun Warriors were the ultimate in butt-kickery!
Based on the Saturday Morning Cartoon, Marshall Bravestarr, these toys were really cool and felt hefty and well-built. The problem was, they fell apart so damn easily! I remember getting a few of these guys for Christmas one year and not ten minutes after I had them open, they exploded into microscopic bits of toy shards. Screw em! Well, I will say, that while they did last, they were pretty fun to play with. I like 30-30 the Horse-Guy-hybrid! 30-30 is a cool name!
I was never really certain if She-Ra, Princess of Power was He-Man’s sister, or cousin, or dentist, or whatever the hell. But I will say that once my sister had gotten a few of these figures for her own, my Master of the Universe guys were finally getting some fine-ass tail. Oh sure, I only had a rudimentary idea of what sex was back then, but I did understand that Prince Adam was laying on top of She-Ra in the opposite way… if you know what I mean. Oh don’t look at me like you never had any of your figures drill for love oil with your sister’s Barbies, you bloody hypocrites! I have many, many issues.
Steelheart, Quicksilver, Stargazer… sounds like an 80’s ass-rock revival weekend, doesn’t it? Well, these were just some of the names you’d find had you been a fan of the Silverhawks cartoon or toy line, and I sure as shellac was. I had a few of these guys, in all their chromatic glory (well, except for that red fellow up there, that’s Mon*Star… not so shiny, that one)… each with the limited pose-ability of a shoe box, but still really damn cool.
Yet another Toy based on a cartoon based on a comic based on a cave painting… or same damn thing. These toys were actually really cool, each coming equipped with a weapon and a really sweet shield! Wait, they had guns and a SHIELD? Well, that makes far less sense when you look at it like that.
I had a couple of ZOIDS toward the tail-end of my ‘playing with childish shit’ phase and I have to admit I really dug how you had to build them yourself and then witness the amazement as they walked off your kitchen table to their certain, explosive doom. Hey, but then you could build them all over again while missing the three pieces that shot under your fridge. Good times, man… good times.
17) Battle Beasts
What can I say about how inconceivably cool these little guys were? 2-inches tall, movable limbs, and each accompanying a wicked weapon… but that was most certainly not all. Oh no, these tiny toys were ANIMALS! Yep, each one was a different type of animal from stag to snake, they made them all, and man were they SWEET! Oh, and it was similar to rock/paper/scissors when you fought as each had a fire/wood/water heat-activated emblem on the chest. wait, wood? How is that threatening? Wood?
Check this out from Wikipedia and just try not to laugh: “The premise was that “somewhere in space, somewhen in time,” exists a planet called Symbion, where a genetic experiment fails. Frightening changes take place that cannot be stopped. The result? A world where insects and arachnids grow to frightening proportions. A world where the inhabitants have taken on the awesome characteristics of insects and arachnids. Prince Dargon, ruler of the peaceful Shining Realm of Prosperon, and his allies are in conflict with the forces of Empress Devora, ruler of the Dark Domain of Synax, and her henchmen, for possession of the Hyves, fortresses of an ancient civilization holding the key to ultimate power. Each character was “tele-bonded” with intelligent, non-anthropomorphic insect creatures called Insectoids that had a special ability, and shared each other’s “pleasure and pain.” HA! It sounds like some kind of Space Soap Opera! Days of Our Sectaurs…
Micronauts were some of the most unusual looking action figures on the market. They each had like fifty points of articulation long before any of that really mattered. Most had the facial features of a half-molded hunk of clay, and they really didn’t have any decent weapons to speak of. So what was so damn cool about them? Well for starters, Mr. Attitude, you could pretty much take the parts from any one guy and mix-and-match them with any other toy in the line! Yeah, now that was some serious action. Create your own nightmare!
14) Super Powers
As much as I am not a DC Comics fan, I do recall playing with more of their toys when I was a kid. Now I don’t have any particular reason to believe why I chose DC over Marvel toys, but there you have it. Anyway, I digress. I remember very vividly having a really cool Green Lantern action figure and I would literally take it with me everywhere and make-believe him having adventures on restaurant tables and church pews. And that, as you can rightly assume, is only a small part of the reason why I’m likely going to Hell.
13) WWF Wrestlers
So my cousins, who were always around all summer, had just a damn ton of these guys including a few rings that we could all stage mock battles within. They had both the semi-poseable ones and the kind that just stretched and felt like dried animal skin. Fun times abound! Best part? They literally made every wrestler you could dream up from the WWF franchise of obscurity. Bastian Booger, anyone?
What could possibly be cooler than a really awesome cartoon featuring good guys and bad guys both sporting helmets allowing them amazing and wonderful powers? Well, those very same characters driving and piloting vehicles that turned into OTHER VEHICLES! And there’s more! THEY WERE TOYS! Oh shit. I loved these guys! A jeep with a damn boat in it! A motorcycle that’s also a helicopter! I think my head just exploded! I had most of these and I may have, at one point, actually married Matt Tracker.
11) Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Yes, some of these toys were indeed based on the quite-clever cartoon of the same name, while others still were based on the game itself. These of the latter were the ones I really remember and I can even see in my mind where I used to get them: Our local KB Toys. Our mall had a KB for a long time before it eventually gave way to a damn Gap or some such shit (I hate our damn mall). Anyway, I remember snagging a few of these before they faded into obscurity. They were really cool, too.
For some odd reason, one year for Christmas my grandma, who has always been just a brain-fart shy of senility, got my brother and I a whole bunch of Starcom action figures. Now I have no idea whether or not some store in the area was having an, ‘Every Starcom Must Go’ fire-sale, or she just, on a loopy whim, decided we would like them… I really have no discernible clue. Well, the fact remains that we had a bunch of these guys that one Christmas. Did you like that story? I wish it were untrue.
I have some vague recollection of this toy line spawning from yet another cartoon, but it could have been a show based on the figures. Does it really matter? These guys featured the mysterious and ‘NEW’ marketing strategy of the 80’s: Holograms! Oh, boy were holograms the biggest thing since the wheel for the 80’s. That shit was on everything once all of the companies had their collective hands in the communal pool. So… they had holograms. And, possibly, holographs. Whee.
8) Masters of the Universe
Was it just me or were the MOTU Toys one of the silliest lines ever made? OK, hear me out here: Not one of the characters had bendable elbows or knees -we all know this- but with the little articulation they had, each of the male figures looked like they belonged on a horse! They had that ridiculous stance with those wicked bowl-legs and ripped muscle features like some kind of roided-out wrestler! Yeah, but all that aside, they were cool as hell and so much damn fun to play with. I like Fakor. Yep, the light-blue He-Man. I’m special.
Wanna talk about expensive toys? Holy shit! Just trying to get the combined lions to create Voltron was a serious task requiring months of a youngster’s allowance or possibly thievery. And I have to say that Voltron was a sight when he was all put together and then when you tried to move him and fight it was like trying to push around a small child! He was heavy, unruly, and prone to collapsing into his respective parts -like children… huh?. But he was cool! He was Goddamn Voltron!
6) Star Wars
No secret told that I’m a sizable Star Wars freak, and as such I had a slew of 80’s figures. I remember this particular set being perhaps one of the major lines I owned. One of my most painful moments in my toy Star Wars history goes a little something like this: I had just gotten the Bespin Luke Skywalker with the little gun and Lightsaber, and I was moronically playing with him atop the drainage grate at the end of my grandparent’s driveway and *CHOKE* I dropped the little weapon down the drain. I remember my stomach falling to my knees and eventually sobbing like a little girl. Well, needless to say -thanks to my rich grandparents indeed- I had a new one within hours. I didn’t go near that grate again. I was a spoiled, SPOILED little boy. The end.
5) Marvel Heroes
Not so much toys as cultural icons, the Marvel toy line put out by Toy Biz in the eighties were nothing short of awesome. One year while my family and I were on vacation in Delaware, I had the unfortunate accident of swallowing a shit-load of sea water and consequently making myself really damn sick. Well, my mom decided to cheer me up by picking my up a couple of toys while I rested my dumb-assed self in bed. She knew I was a bit of a comic nerd, so she got me some Secret Wars toys. Wow. Now those were something else. And, if I remember, I still have my Spider-Man guy somewhere, too. It was good to be sick.
4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Did you like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Yeah, me too. Moving on.
Despite the fact that I watched these guys on TV, played these guys on Nintendo, and bore agonizing witness to these guys dancing ridiculously to Vanilla Ice, I never really got to into the toys. I had one or two, but none one would call a collection. Nope, just not the biggest TMNT toy fan and with those words I expect fully to be burned at the stake. It’s cool.
Yep, I had a few of these guys mostly because I really dug Panthro! He was frickin huge in the cartoon and did all the mechanical work on the vehicles and weapons. Oh sure, Lion-O had the kick-ass sword and claw shield (and the odd man-love for that fuckin’ twit, Snarf), but I always figured Cheetara would come around to the suave, Billy D.-Like Panthro first. Where was I? Oh, right, Thundercats, HO!
In my neighborhood, if you didn’t have at least ONE Transformer toy, you were a damn loser. I hate to admit that, but it’s true. So, since it was so important to not only own one or more of these wonderful toys, you had to one-up your friends by getting either a new release first, or a more expensive toy before the other guy. It was a sad state of affairs to be sure, but that’s the way it was. Anyway, between my brother and I we had dozens of these robot-vehicles and the one major thing that stuck in our collective craws during playtime wasn’t the coolness factor -oh no- it was, however, the fact that it took ALL DAMN DAY to turn them from robot to vehicle and back! I mean shit, on the cartoon they just made that chit-chit-chit-chit sound and it was all over! We made the noise, but the fucking things never transformed themselves… as it were.
1) G.I. Joe
Here we are! The Number One Eighties Action Figure OF ALL TIME! Infinitely pose-able, beautifully rendered, a million figures and vehicles, tons of weapons, a sweet-ass cartoon to round it out, and by far some of the coolest names from any toy line available! Oh, and they were all relatively inexpensive and, I might ass, it was ever so much more fun to have had a friend whose father built an entire G.I. Joe city in the basement! This, friends, was my childhood.